What the World Needs Now Is Fun—a Guide to Reopening Your Indoor Adventure Park.
The COVID-19 crisis has dealt a tough blow to the entire Family Entertainment Center industry. Indoor adventure parks have certainly been no exception. But even though the pandemic has disrupted our business to the core – remembering the value of what we provide to our customers will help propel us forward during this period of adversity.
Our collective purpose is to bring people and families together to laugh, have fun, and share in great times. We do not know about you, but we are fairly sure the world could desperately use some of that right about now. After months of being cooped up at home, kids and parents alike will soon be ready to run, bounce, swing, and climb their way through indoor parks once again.
Although COVID-19 has set us back, the long-term future of FECs (Family Entertainment Centers) remains bright. The steps we take as an industry to reopen our facilities in the coming weeks and months can go a long way to position us for a strong recovery.
As states reopen at staggered paces, it is crucial to make sure we are ready for our customers to return to our parks with new systems and safety protocols in place. The two main aspects of this preparation will be: 1) Internally preparing our parks and our staff for reopening. 2) Preparing our customers by letting them know what to expect.
Preparing your park and your employees for reopening.
There are many resources available to adventure park owners that offer both general and FEC-specific guidelines for reopening practices. Here are a few:
- The CDC shares its reopening guidelines.
- The IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions) recently published “COVID-19 Reopening Guidance: Considerations for the Global Attractions Industry.” This guide offers tailored recommendations focused specifically on the unique situations and challenges of FECs.
- As a respected FEC (Family Entertainment Centers) industry authority, the IAAPA is also currently offering a free series of webinars that contain valuable insights, expertise, and operational advice to help our industry members during this challenging time. We would recommend all park owners view this series and consider sharing the reopening webinars with your employees.
The considerations below are a general summary of the guidelines being suggested and are subject to change and ongoing discussion. Remember that individual states and cities may have specific reopening guidelines that you are required to follow.
Social distancing guidelines will have the most significant impact on FECs when they reopen. These guidelines will require reducing capacity and rethinking the layout of your facility. Initially, reducing capacity by 50 percent is recommended. But reductions will also depend on factors like the square footage of your facility, as well as local and state guidelines. Seating and party areas will need to be more spread out.
- Contactless payment is becoming the new norm in FECs. Parks that still use coin and token systems should switch to touchless technology that allows guests to pay in advance. In some cases, they can reserve time slots for attractions if needed. Making packages available can add incentives while simultaneously helping your bottom line.
- Plexiglass shields are recommended to reduce contamination in areas where staff members have frequent interaction with guests.
- Provide additional handwashing or hand sanitizing stations throughout your park. Require all guests to use these upon arrival at your facility. Place hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance to each attraction to help prevent the spread of germs.
- Keep the fun clean by making sure your operating procedures for disinfecting and sanitizing meet local health regulations. Frequently touched attraction surfaces should be cleaned throughout the day and prior to opening and closing. Make sure employees have proper training and equipment for effective cleaning.
- Encourage both employees and visitors to frequently wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Ensure that signage in both public and employee areas proactively communicates all hygiene rules and procedures.
- Create visible signage to hang throughout your facility that explains the rules and procedures regarding COVID-19. The IAAPA guideline resource mentioned above offers suggestions on specific points and language to use.
- Employees should wear masks or face coverings while working.
- Have First Aid protocols in place to manage employees or guess that have COVID-19-like symptoms.
- Make sure you hold training sessions with your staff to update them on new policies, safety protocols, and changes to past procedures.
- Consider holding a soft opening where you invite family and friends. This can help train your staff on the new changes and procedures and serve as a pressure test to your park’s readiness.
- Guests should be encouraged to wear masks. In some states, guests are required to wear masks.
- Implement a system for guest screening upon entry. This should include filling out an updated consent form that acknowledges the risks of COVID-19 in public places, taking guest temperatures if required, completing a survey on exposure, and eliminating the option to leave and return to the facility later in the same day.
- Consider allowing guests to pre-book specific timeslots for attractions. This will eliminate waiting lines and give people a clear understanding of what attractions they can be on and when.
- Keep it fun. Remind employees that being positive and upbeat can go a long way and that a friendly, uplifting attitude matters more than ever.
Preparing guests and letting them know what to expect.
As FECs reopen, returning guests will have a vastly different mindset than before the pandemic. While they will certainly be ready to shake off their quarantine-induced cabin fever, they will likely only visit businesses they perceive as safe. Letting them know you have taken the critical steps to prepare your facility will put their minds at ease and make them more likely to return.
This starts with effective communication. Use your website, email lists, and social media channels to invite them back, win their confidence, and set their expectations.
- Start by updating your websites explaining the new guidelines.
- Tell them about the steps you have taken to ensure their safety. Let them know you value them as customers and that you have invested in their safety.
- Inform them about the capacity changes you have implemented to meet social distancing guidelines.
- Invite them to purchase tickets and passes using new contactless technology.
- Let them know what is expected of them when they arrive. (Adhering to social distancing guidelines, using hand sanitizing stations, wearing a mask, staying home if they are not welling feel, etc.)
- Additionally, let them know that there will be no tolerance for people who do not follow the rules.
- Empathize with attendees. Show them you understand how they are feeling and remind them that we are all navigating this uncharted territory together.
The pandemic pivot as an FEC owner.
Reopening our parks and inviting guests back is only one small step in a longer journey. The fiscal impact of COVID-19 on Indoor Playgrounds cannot be understated. Shutting parks down also shut off cash flow. In the near term, at least, enduring leaner times will require the same level of entrepreneurial spirit and creativity that led us into the industry in the first place. It will force us to be nimble, flexible, and make adjustments as we go.
- Pricing structures may need to be revisited in the short term. Without giving up too much too soon, owners might need to adjust for a more price-sensitive customer whose entertainment dollars may be limited due to the economic downturn we are in. Many United Play clients are leaning into creative pricing plans that encourage repeat visits, such as season passes and rewards programs. Consider offer discounts like BOGOs and group discounts to entice people to visit. Offer reduced pricing on lower traffic days or times.
- Capacity reductions will no doubt impact profits. But implementing creative admission plans with phased or timed passes can help accommodate more customers, especially on days when demand exceeds capacity.
- Brainstorm new ways to drive incremental revenue. For example, some parks have seen good revenue from selling anti-slip socks that guests can wear on attractions. Consider selling custom printed masks with fun expressions or designs on them for customers who forget to bring their own.
Keep getting the word out.
It is a natural tendency for businesses to want to cut back on advertising and marketing in complicated economic times. But research shows companies that step up their efforts in downturns tend to fare better than those that stop.
Now is not the time to go into a shell and slash your marketing budget. Now is time the engage with your customers and let them know you are there for them. You can still advertise and be scrappy about it.
Use your social media channels to drive engagement. Run creative promotions, contests, and giveaways. Encourage customers to spread the word for you. Invite them to create user-generated social content while at your park and reward them for sharing and tagging.
Staying the course.
As difficult of a challenge as COVID-19 is, FEC industry entrepreneurs need to remember that this too shall pass. As time goes by capacity limits will increase and even eventually return to normal, or something close to it. “I believe we have a bright future ahead of us as an industry,” United Play Co-Founder Bob Krause said. “COVID-19 will not define us. Our resilience and the way we respond to it will.”
The way our industry operates will most certainly experience changes. But one thing that will never change is the basic human need for fun and laughter. There will always be demand for that. When the COVID-19 crisis began, all-businesses deemed “non-essential” were ordered to be shut down. But as we collectively recover and reopen, we would argue that the fun our industry provides makes us one of the most essential businesses of all.